In October 1967, Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s former Cabinet minister, Yatuta Chisiza led 16 other rebels into Malawi through Mwanza to topple him from power. Yatuta and Lutengano Mwahimba died in combat before nine others were captured, tried and hanged. The other five successfully escaped into exile. This year, a foundation called Lost History came up with a video documentary of the war. Our reporter AYAMI MKWANDA talks to one of the project leaders Paliani Chinguwo to find out more about the project:
Tell us the background of the Lost History project
The background is that we started audio documentary on the October 1967 Mwanza War. These were episodes that were aired on MIJ FM in 2016. When the episodes were aired again in October 2017 which was the 50th anniversary of the Mwanza War commemorating the death of Yatuta Chisiza and Lutengano Mwahimba, people started asking for video documentaries. They wanted to see the key characters in the story.
Why isolate the 1967 War episode from the larger picture of Malawi’s history?
Remember we are called the Lost History Foundation. We are looking at aspects of Malawi history that were distorted, concealed and misrepresented in our books or through the media. We are coming forth to repair that distortion through the project.
Why is it important to put history straight?
History is what defines society. If we put history most accurately it means moving forward as a country as we will be able to draw good lessons from our history. So we will learn the mistakes that happened in the past and correct them in the present as we forge ahead into the future. But if your history is not accurate as the way we have it in Malawi you will not be able to draw good lessons from the past.
You claim that our history was distorted—for what purpose?
The major purpose is political. You have leaders that would want to score political points. You have leaders that are dictators. In this case Banda who wanted to have his image supersede all the other nationalists who also contributed to the fight for independence of the country. Banda wanted to emerge as the only hero who should be glorified for the fight of freedom that we are enjoying today. That is why in the past you used to hear that Banda singlehandedly dismantled the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland which is not true. Any struggle cannot be a one-man show. Now you have it recorded in history that Banda singlehandedly fought the federation and for our independence. This is what we have been learning in schools. This is what has been written in books. So it is now time to correct that narrative. We talk of Dr Banda as the founder of the Malawi Congress Party [MCP]. It is not true. He was not the founder. There were others who founded MCP in 1959 when Banda was in prison. Orton [Chirwa] was the founding president of MCP. But the narrative changed.
So where are you now with the project?
We have made significant steps. We are going towards the end of the video documentary project. Now the directors and producers are doing studio work. By the end of December the video documentary will be out. The general public will be able to buy DVDs. Local and international television stations will be airing the documentary.
Who are the characters in the documentary?
It will mainly feature Frank Jiya who is one of the combatants who was led by Yatuta as their leader as they entered the country on September 30 1967 with the motive of taking over government from Hastings Kamuzu Banda. So you find Yatuta and his colleague Mwahimba, among the 17 people who entered the country. Mwahimba and Yatuta were shot dead during the war. Then nine others were captured by the security forces in Malawi and tried at the High Court, found guilty of treason and eventually hanged. We don’t know where they were buried. Five people managed to escape successfully from the battlefield in Mwanza. They retreated into Mozambique and walked to Zambia where they stayed from 1967 up to 1993 when the political terrain in Malawi changed. Among these five was Jiya who came back after 1993. The other four had died. He is the only surviving member of the 17 Mwanza combatants. On the government side we have Major General Buckston Namwali who was part of the command centre for the Malawi Security Forces. Most of the soldiers died but Major General Namwali is alive. Apart from these, there is Alaudin Osman, who in 1967 was the only black journalist working with Times, who was allowed to cover the war. Lastly, we also have been privileged to have family members from Yatuta and Mwahimba.
Why should Malawians be interested to know about someone who was deemed a rebel and wanted to oust Dr Banda, duly elected leader in 1962?
Yes, these were rebels for the fact that when they were coming for war, there was already a sitting government. In that context, these were rebels. But then the analysis shouldn’t stop there. It should go further to interrogate on why these people attempted to stage a coup. Why did they decide to go for military training to fight Banda? Why did a minister like Yatuta resign from Cabinet and go into exile? In Tanzania the ministers that fled from Banda were accorded ministerial status. They were given houses, cars and their children were going to school. They had luxury life. So why would someone dump all these in exile and choose to train for guerrilla warfare and eventually die in the bush in Mwanza?
What is your next step after releasing the documentary?
We are digging the lost history of Malawi. After we deliver the output of this project which is the DVD documentary, we will embark on another.
Are you going to write a book after putting the history straight?
We are planning to write, articles, periodicals and books but for now we are focusing on the DVD documentary. The books will cover all these missing links of Malawi’s lost history.
Are you satisfied with the history schools are teaching?
To a greater extent no for the reasons I have explained above. Our history has suffered catastrophic damage in terms of distortion and misrepresentation. We continue to teach our children the same history that was distorted. We haven’t liberated ourselves from that. Our other goal is we should be able to present the results to the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders—stimulating discussion to reform the syllabus to adopt the version which is most accurate. n